This time around, Martin can relax

Originally Published: September 8, 2005
Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. -- Mark Martin is having some fun this week at Richmond International Raceway.

The longtime NASCAR star's idea of fun is racing as much as possible. That's why he was smiling a lot as he prepared to compete in Thursday's night's International Race of Champions event, Friday night's Busch Series race and Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 Nextel Cup fixture.

Unlike last year, Martin was able to relax heading into the busy weekend. He has already clinched a spot in the Chase for the Cup, a 10-race championship battle that will begin next week in New Hampshire.

Last year, he came to Richmond 10th in the points and needing a big race to earn a place in the inaugural Chase. A fifth-place finish was more than enough to get him into the show, moving Martin up to eighth in the standings.

"Our goal was to clinch our spot in the Chase and we've done that," said Martin, the only Cup driver to join the open-wheel entries in Thursday afternoon's IROC practice. "We can kind of go for it all at Richmond and then it's on to the next goal: the Nextel Cup Championship."

Martin, who had planned to retire from his Cup ride at the end of 2005, won the IROC race, then the four-time Cup runner-up said he probably would stay on for another year in the Roush Racing No. 6 Ford, filling in until Jamie McMurray takes over the ride in 2007.

Trophy envy
It has not been many years since most of the trophies handed out for victories in NASCAR's top series were hardly more special than the hardware awarded at many of the nation's short tracks.

No longer. Tracks now seem to be competing for the honor of having the most exotic or impressive trophy.

A year ago, Richmond gave the winner of the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 a guitar.

The latest offering by the Virginia track, built by PRS Guitars of Stevensville, Md., is a work of art more than 4 feet tall. It's a custom guitar with red and gold enamel, surrounded by flames of polished aluminum and sitting atop a mahogany and maple pedestal. The entire unit weighs in excess of 70 pounds.

Not up front
Jamie McMurray heads into Saturday's race barely holding onto 10th in the Nextel Cup standings, one point head of Ryan Newman and 30 in front of Jeff Gordon for the final spot in the Chase.

Amazingly, McMurray remains in contention despite totaling only five bonus points -- far fewer than any other driver in the top 10.

Cup drivers earn five bonus points for leading at least one lap during a race and another five points for leading the most. McMurray's No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge has led just one lap in 25 races this season.

Third-place Rusty Wallace and eighth-place Carl Edwards have 35 bonus points apiece. Newman has 65, Gordon 60 and 13th-place Elliott Sadler, 42 points behind McMurray, has accumulated 40.

Racing for Governor
Virginia is one of only two states with a gubernatorial election this November, and NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler is entering the fray.

No, the Emporia native isn't running for the state's highest office. Instead, he'll have a Kilgore for Governor paint scheme and partial sponsorship on his No. 92 Chevrolet when the Nextel Cup Series moves to Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 23.

Kilgore is Republican Jerry Kilgore, running against Democrat Tim Kaine and Independent Russ Potts in the election Nov. 8. Sadler said he's been a longtime fan of Kilgore and looks forward to supporting his campaign and even doing some stumping himself.

The car also will be used in several campaign appearances, Sadler said.

He also said it's unlikely younger brother Sadler, who drives the No. 38 Ford, will wind up running with a competing Kaine for Governor paint scheme.

"Not if he wants to stay a Sadler," Hermie said.

Kilgore campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said almost half of the approximate cost of $200,000 of running the car will be borne by the campaign, while Hermie said he and his family will pick up the rest as an in-kind contribution to the candidacy.

Spark plugs
Thirty-nine of the top 40 in the Nextel Cup standings have won more than $1 million this season. Only 40th-place Terry Labonte, who has driven in just 11 races this season, is under the mark at $953,945. … Not surprisingly, series points leader Tony Stewart tops everyone with 12 top-fives and 17 top-10s in 25 starts. He has failed to finish just one race. … Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett are the only drivers in the top 40 to have been running at the finish over every Cup race this season. … Each of the past 11 races at Richmond has produced a different pole winner.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press